Two major earthquakes that struck far apart from each other 13 years ago, have brought two distant countries — Taiwan and Turkey — together on the path of humanitarian aid.
“I was certain that my house was going to collapse,” Turkey-based Taiwanese businessman Faisal Hu (胡光中) said of the night of Aug. 17, 1999, when a magnitude 7.6 earthquake hit Turkey, claiming tens of thousands of lives.
Rescue teams from all over the world rushed to Turkey to help save those trapped under the rubble. However, Hu said a feeling of resentment began to grow in his heart when days passed and there were no reports of Taiwanese aid coming.
Hu, a Muslim, said he later learned that the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, one of Taiwan’s largest charity groups, had sent a disaster assessment team from Kosovo to Turkey to assist with disaster relief on the day after the earthquake.
Tzu Chi had donated prefabricated houses and 200 tents to the earthquake victims in Turkey, said Ferhan Merter, a member of Turkish charity Kimse Yok Mu. Merter had assisted Tzu Chi in their earthquake relief at that time.
He said in a recent interview in Istanbul that the two charities had since enjoyed close ties, visiting and learning from each other.
Just close to one month after the earthquake in Turkey, Taiwan suffered one of its deadliest temblors on Sept. 21, which left more than 2,400 people dead.
The Taiwanese volunteers in Turkey faced a difficult decision — stay in Turkey or go back to Taiwan, but they eventually decided to stay, Hu said.
The news was covered by Turkish daily newspaper Zaman, which said the volunteers who stayed in Turkey despite their own disaster back home were carrying out “true humanitarian aid.”
Because of the experience it gained from the disaster relief work in Turkey, Tzu Chi was able to make a speedy entry into the disaster zones in Taiwan after the Sept. 21 quake and set up prefabricated houses in a short time, Hu said.
A rescue team composed of members of the Turkish government and volunteer search and rescue association AKUT also flew to Taiwan after the quake to assist with search and rescue work, he added, calling it “a circulation of goodwill.”
“It doesn’t matter if you come to Turkey, we go there [Taiwan], it’s like paying back to the community of the world,” said Cilasun Bayulgen, director of technical training at rescue group AKUT.
Bayulgen was in Taiwan as a rescuer after the Sept. 21 earthquake.
That bond continues. Years later, Merter said, Kimse Yok Mu donated US$50,000 to help the victims of the 2009 flooding in Taiwan caused by Typhoon Morakot.
Hu said 817 and 921 were two previously unrelated set of numbers, but they have now connected the people of Taiwan and Turkey.